Why mastering a foreign language is no longer a ‘good to have’ but ‘must-have’ in 2022
It has been 21 years since the Speak Good English Movement was launched, over concerns that the widespread use of Singlish would affect Singapore's ability to communicate with the world and grow economically. However, the movement has long been viewed by Singaporeans to be over-exacting, preachy, and anti-Singlish.
It’s funny, really, how, 21 years later, Singapore has acknowledged that it’s now losing its bilingual edge: This year, a Mother Tongue Support Programme was introduced for Primary 3 and Primary 4 students who find the subject challenging. Along with the programme, a new curriculum has been introduced in Secondary schools that aim to foster a greater sense of national identity and cultural knowledge.
Singaporeans are truly lucky to be born in a country of multiple beautiful languages, just like our neighbour Malaysia, but we probably have not realised before now that being bilingual, or multilingual, is a true asset.
Being trilingual in Singapore used to be the norm, but it’s now rare
Is mastering a second language a must-have in 2022? After all, more than half1 our world is bilingual. While Singapore boasts four official languages, in view of the increasingly popular Chinese ‘B’ syllabus, which was introduced back in 1999, can we really say we are still multilingual?
Perhaps it’s time for Singapore to put in more effort into mastering foreign languages, dialects, and mother tongues again, pronto!
Singapore: Let’s not repeat the same mistakes
In 1979, the government launched a Speak Mandarin Campaign and encouraged Chinese Singaporeans to replace their dialects with Mandarin.
People listened, and the change in local language use is substantial to say the least:
|Year||% of population that used English as the main household language||% of population that used Mandarin as the main household language|
As a result of the changes in language use, Singapore now faces a strange situation2 where elderly persons of Cantonese, Hakka, and Hokkien origin are no longer able to communicate with their grandchildren or blend into society, and said grandchildren are anglicised bananas who are barely able to speak their mother tongues or dialects.
Marginalised3 grandparents and estranged grandchildren? Let’s put it this way: Singapore is close to wiping out its dialects and mother tongues, and it does not look good.
The benefits of mastering a foreign language
Whether you’re thinking of brushing up on your Cantonese, or would like to learn a completely different language altogether, it might encourage you to know that there are many proven pros of bilingualism, at the workplace, and much more.
Does bilingualism make us smarter?
The benefits of early bilingualism have been touted in a broad range of literature, and perhaps some of the most important benefits of early bilingualism is often taken for granted: Bilingual children will know multiple languages, which comes in handy for travel, employment, building relationships, remembering their roots and culture, and making friends and acquaintances from different walks of life.
Bilinguals also enjoy cognitive advantages
Bilinguals also seem to perform better than monolinguals when it comes to switching between activities and inhibiting previously learned responses.
Research has not been able to pinpoint the main reasons these advantages arise, but there are several possibilities: Bilingual adults and children alike regularly switch between their languages, and inhibit one while they speak another. Some researchers believe this constant practice trains the brain and is great for Cognitive progress4.
Learning a second language (or more) makes us more creative
A study5 by Medical Daily found that being bilingual helps with problem solving and creativity. The study revealed that bilinguals enjoyed benefits when it came to language, arithmetic, problem solving, and creativity - skills that are highly valued at the workplace.
In summary, learning a different language can help you gain a unique perspective and understanding of yourself. It can also help you relate to people and your environment better. It doesn’t matter if you’re relearning a dialect, or picking up something totally alien. The important thing is that you start now.
At Lingo, we provide online language courses for over 20 languages, spanning from German to Japanese - though our area of expertise are the South East Asian languages. Regardless, we are happy to tailor your learning according to your preferences and schedule!
- Bialystok, E., Craik, F. I., & Luk, G. (2012). Bilingualism: consequences for mind and brain. Trends in cognitive sciences, 16(4), 240–250. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2012.03.001
- D'Souza, D., Brady, D., Haensel, J. X., & D'Souza, H. (2020). Is mere exposure enough? The effects of bilingual environments on infant cognitive development. Royal Society open science, 7(2), 180191. https://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.180191